Friday, September 28, 2007

Smelt Banking

Good program, good plan and way to go UCD!

Safeguarding a species
A UC Davis captive-breeding program will use captured Delta smelt to create a strong strain to replenish the wild population if it dies out
By Matt Weiser - Bee Staff Writer
Published 12:00 am PDT Friday, September 28, 2007

After fighting for decades to protect the threatened Delta smelt, wildlife officials have begun to move in a new direction: a captive-breeding program in case the fragile fish goes extinct in the wild.

The decision to begin a species rescue program was made cooperatively by state and federal agencies and academics in recent weeks. Officials are still working to fully fund the effort, but it will be based at a UC Davis smelt research lab at the state Department of Water Resources facility near this south Delta town in Contra Costa County.

UC Davis will isolate a separate group of smelt, captured in the wild last year, and breed them to create a genetically strong strain that could be used to replenish the wild population.

No decision has been made to actually reintroduce these fish. Officials said that ruling is years away and would first require many answers about whether such fish are compatible with their wild cousins.

But the program marks a significant new dimension for management of the smelt -- and the Delta itself.

"We're trying to create a safeguard against extinction, but hopefully the fish will come back in the wild so we won't have to restock," said Joan Lindberg, an ecologist and supervisor of the UC Davis Fish Conservation and Culture Laboratory. "The bigger issue is trying to clean up the Delta so the wild fish can continue to survive."

Lindberg's lab has been breeding smelt for 15 years for research purposes. At any given time, its tanks hold as many as 50,000 juveniles and 20,000 adult fish. They range from larval fish smaller than a grain of rice to adults the size of a pinky finger.